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ABSTRACT

A historian explores the construction of Anacostia Museum's identity from the 1960s to the present by examining the history of its exhibitions. Direct community accessibility was part of the museum's founding mission, but Smithsonian administration, museum staff, and community residents all seemed to have different ideas about the meaning of the “neighborhood museum” concept. Designated a “Smithsonian outpost,” and intended to draw African-American visitors to the Smithsonian museums on the Mall, the new museum's mission was instead shaped by community advisory groups to focus broadly on African-American history and culture. Staff efforts to “professionalize” and upgrade museum operations later threatened community access to the exhibition-development process, and most community/museum interaction was relegated to the program and outreach activities of the education department. The 1994 Black Mosaic exhibition provided an opportunity to devise new ways of integrating the perspectives of a changed community into the exhibition-development process.